HUC-JIR Alludes To ‘Agreement’ As Judge Grants Temporary Restraining Order Against The College

In a Tuesday email to staff, students, and faculty at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, President Andrew Rehfeld tried to dispel concerns about the legal action that the Ohio Attorney General’s Office took against the college earlier this week.

Referencing the temporary restraining order that the attorney general was seeking to stop HUC-JIR from selling rare items from the Cincinnati Klau Library, Rehfeld wrote that “our counsel came to an agreement with the Attorney General’s Office on this matter because we have no plans to sell our rare books.”

But it’s not clear what agreement Rehfeld may be alluding to in the email (obtained by Cincy Jewfolk) or if said agreement was meant to stop the restraining order.

On Tuesday – after Cincy Jewfolk and other news outlets reported on the attorney general’s filing – Hamilton County Judge Megan Shanahan granted the temporary restraining order.

“Considering [the attorney general’s] likelihood of success on the merits of its claims, likelihood of irreparable injury if immediate relief is not granted, and likelihood of harm to other parties, it is in the public interest to enter this temporary restraining order,” the judge’s filing states.

Cincy Jewfolk reached out to the attorney general’s office and to HUC-JIR asking for clarification about the agreement Rehfeld referenced in his email. This story will be updated with any responses.

The order prohibits HUC-JIR from selling or transferring, in any way, any of the items in the Klau Library collections.

It also orders HUC-JIR to preserve all records related to the collections and management of the library, and, within seven days, to turn over many of those records – including planned budgets – to the attorney general.

The order expires on July 12, when a hearing is scheduled over the attorney general’s legal action.

The Klau is HUC-JIR’s primary research library, known for its substantial collections on the traditions, history, and philosophy of world Jewry across more than a dozen languages – including Chinese, Spanish, and Portuguese – and a renowned assembly of Jewish liturgical music.

The attorney general’s case is largely built around Cincy Jewfolk’s April reporting – which is referenced and quoted from extensively in the filings – about HUC-JIR’s efforts to sell rare items from the Klau, and the college administration’s budget cuts at the library.

After Cincy Jewfolk’s April story, the office contacted HUC-JIR “seeking an immediate, verified assurance” that all proceeds from Klau sales would be reinvested into the library, and not used to cover the college’s finances.

“The college did not provide the requested assurance,” the office states in its filing.

In emails with the attorney general’s office, included as exhibits in the filing, Martha Sweterlitsch, HUC-JIR’s attorney, reiterated that HUC-JIR has no current plans to sell from the Klau, but the college does need to manage its holdings despite outcry from the Cincinnati community.

Alluding to potential sales, Sweterlitsch wrote: “We are completely aware that, as soon as news of any such agreement, or instructions on how to implement it, leaks (as it inevitably will as past events demonstrate), the actors in Cincinnati who are stuck in the past and whose goal is to stop time with respect to HUC will raise a breach claim over any and every book that is discarded regardless of reason. Quite frankly, my client does not need, or have time for that kind of distraction.”